Speaker No

The US midterm election returns are now in, for the most part. The result? Greater-than-expected Democratic losses in the House of Representatives – and a loss of their majority in that chamber – together with somewhat less-than-expected losses in the Senate, capped by the unexpected electoral survival of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

His counterpart as most powerful official of the House now becomes Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, someone relatively unknown to this point even within the US, and certainly internationally. The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung steps into the breach today with a brief portrait entitled The Patriot.

“Patriot”? That’s taking Boehner at his own word. President Obama is of a slightly different opinion; as the election neared and he started sharpening his rhetoric against his political opponents, he began to zero in on Boehner as the face of the Republican Party – “the Party of No” – as a whole, often singling out his name multiple times in campaign speeches. (That face, FAZ correspondent Matthias Rüb adds, which is always “tanned brown.”) He also was the presumed target of the President’s now-infamous remark during an interview with a Spanish-language radio station about how Latino voters needed to start voting to “punish their enemies” who stood in the way of legislation they want, like immigration reform. No, I’m a patriot, is how Boehner responded in his own campaign speech soon afterwards, since he is against high taxes and high government indebtedness.

Be that as it may, it will no longer be possible simply to dismiss John Boehner after 3 January when he becomes Speaker of the House, so Obama and the rest of us need to get to know him better. (Naturally, Obama is way ahead on this.) He is said by author Rüb to be “amiable,” and renowned as a “renewer and clean-up man” (Erneuerer und Saubermann) within the halls of Congress, which he first started to prowl in 1991. Since that freshmen term his rapid rise to the top came about through close association with, first, Newt Gingrich and then with Tom Delay, whom he succeeded as House minority leader after the latter resigned his seat in February 2006 over corruption allegations (only now coming to trial). Interestingly, before that point his main legislative accomplishment was probably the “No Child Left Behind” education act, which he maneuvered through Congress in cooperation with then-President George W. Bush and noted liberal grandee Senator Ted Kennedy.

But there is also no need to idealize the man. For one thing, there was his own remarkable admission in a recent interview that, as far as he was concerned, the chief Republican legislative goal was to ensure that Obama becomes a one-term president. At the same time, he is by far the champion fund-raiser for Republican electoral coffers, largely because of how especially “amiable” he is towards lobbyists for financial and big business concerns, as noted in this NYT piece of only a couple months ago. But we probably cannot expect the FAZ – even the paper’s dedicated Washington correspondent – to be able to fully fathom the increasingly commercial nature of American legislative deliberations.

Post modified: Sorry, it was rather Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell who stated the bit about making Obama a one-term president being the Republican Party’s #1 objective.

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